Some of the greatest movies ever made have featured stories that revolve around the search for a missing person. Here are seven of the most critically acclaimed films with stories about missing people. While the films’ rankings are primarily based on aggregate ratings from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes, films with identical approval ratings are secondarily ordered according to box office receipts.
7. Frantic (1988)
This Roman Polanski-directed thriller stars Harrison Ford as Dr. Richard Walker, an American whose wife goes missing while they are visiting Paris. After failing to get much help from the local police and the U.S. embassy, Walker embarks on his own search for his wife and discovers that her disappearance is related to the mysterious contents of a suitcase that she accidentally took from the airport. Betty Buckley plays the wife who mysteriously disappears, while Emmanuelle Seigner plays a courier who helps Walker with his search.
While Frantic was considered a commercial failure when it was originally released, it garnered positive reviews from the critics, including Roger Ebert, who noted that “even with its excesses, ‘Frantic’ is a reminder of how absorbing a good thriller can be.” Frantic currently has a 78 percent “Certified Fresh” rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
6. Breakdown (1997)
Kurt Russell stars in this Jonathan Mostow-directed film about yet another husband whose wife mysteriously disappears without a trace. Russell plays Jeff Taylor, a man driving across the country with his wife en route to California. After their vehicle breaks down in the desert, his wife — played by Kathleen Quinlan — hitches a ride with a seemingly friendly truck driver played by J.T. Walsh in order to locate a mechanic. However, she never returns and Taylor soon uncovers evidence of a widespread kidnapping epidemic in the area.
Breakdown was well received by most film reviewers and it currently has an 80 percent “Certified Fresh” rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes. “’Breakdown’ is taut, skillful and surgically effective,” wrote prominent critic Roger Ebert. Breakdown was also a commercial success with a total domestic gross of over $50 million on an estimated production budget of $36 million, according to Box Office Mojo.
5. Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
Renowned Australian film director Peter Weir helmed this poetic and dreamlike film adaptation of Joan Lindsay’s historical fiction novel. Set in 1900, the film tells the story of a group of teachers and students from a private school in Australia who take a day trip to a geological formation known as Hanging Rock. During the visit, three schoolgirls and a teacher inexplicably disappear.
Picnic at Hanging Rock was a critical success and the film’s ethereal visuals garnered director of photography Russell Boyd a BAFTA film award for Best Cinematography. Picnic at Hanging Rock currently has a 94 percent approval rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
4. Winter’s Bone (2010)
Jennifer Lawrence plays Ree Dolly, a poor teenage girl from the Ozarks who is looking for her missing father in this film adaptation of Daniel Woodrell’s novel of the same name. In the film, Ree must locate her missing father who is out on bail in order to prevent the family from losing their home.
Director Debra Granik’s second feature film received rave reviews from the critics and garnered four Academy Award nominations, including a Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role nomination for Lawrence. Winter’s Bone has a 94 percent “Certified Fresh” rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
3. Gone Baby Gone (2007)
Ben Affleck made his feature film directorial debut with Gone Baby Gone, based on Dennis Lehane’s novel of the same name, Gone Baby Gone tells the story of two private investigators, played by Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan, who are hired to investigate the disappearance of young girl in Boston. The film also features Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris as members of the Boston police, while Amy Ryan plays Helene McCready, the missing girl’s mother.
Gone Baby Gone was widely praised by the critics and garnered Amy Ryan an Academy Award nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role. The film has a 94 percent “Certified Fresh” rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
2. L’Avventura (1960)
Directed by the Academy Award-winning filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni, this groundbreaking Italian film tells the story of a young woman’s disappearance during a yachting trip to a Mediterranean island. Unlike the stories of most films about missing people, which are driven by the search for the missing character, the search for the missing woman in L’Avventura soon takes a backseat to the emotional interactions between the other film’s characters.
L’Avventura was critically acclaimed and secured Antonioni the Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize in 1960, as well as a nomination for the Palme d’Or. The film has since made many critics’ lists of top films and it currently has a 97 percent approval rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
1. The Vanishing aka Spoorloos aka The Man Who Wanted to Know (1988)
George Sluizer’s adaptation of Tim Krabbé’s novella The Golden Egg is arguably one of the best-known films ever made about a mysterious disappearance. In the film, a Dutch man’s girlfriend inexplicably disappears without a trace while they are stopped at a gas station in France. After years of obsessively searching for her, the man finally encounters her abductor and is given an opportunity to finally know what happened to her.
The Vanishing garnered widespread critical acclaim upon its initial release in Europe as well as in America, where it was released several years later. As noted by Roger Ebert, the film’s unusual narrative structure maintains suspense even as it reveals the reason for the girlfriend’s mysterious disappearance. “[T]he more we know, the more we wonder and fear,” observed Ebert. Sluizer later remade the film for the American market in 1993, but the remake was widely panned for altering the original story and generally being pointless. The Vanishing has a 100 percent approval rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
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